I started my journey in church leadership when I was just about 20 years old. One of the most awkward and challenging things about being a young leader was having to lead people who are old enough to be my mom, dad, or even a grandparent.

I knew it came with the territory, but man…it could be so difficult. Leading them was often easier said than done.

Leadership is filled with all kinds of these “opportunities”…you know, the ones that can get under your skin, make you feel like you’re hitting a wall, or maybe even have you questioning if you’re fit to lead. Even though it can be challenging, it doesn’t have to be painful or limiting.

In fact, it can be empowering and liberating, if we handle it the right way.

1 Timothy 4:12 (NLT) says, “Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.”

We lead best by our example!

At our church, we believe that our EXCELLENCE increases our INFLUENCE. Excellence isn’t perfection, rather it is giving our best and continuing to grow.

Leading those that are older, and maybe even more competent than us, is an opportunity for us to employ this principle – to model what it means to lead with excellence.

So, how do we do it? Here are four tips:

  1. Lead HUMBLY.
    There is nothing worse than a “know-it-all” leader (of any age). You might have the position and the authority, but you need to wield it humbly. Arrogance and dictator-like tendencies are signs of immaturity and insecurity. Real leaders don’t have to force their authority; they garner respect by serving those they lead and walking humbly. You do not have to discount the achievements of others to make yours shine brighter.
  2. Lead WISELY.
    Don’t be afraid to seek out wise counsel! Remind yourself, “I do not have all the answers.” Good leaders know when to lead up to their leaders. I remember one time when I noticed a behavior pattern in a much older leader that was counter to our culture. I didn’t think it was intentional, but it was representing him poorly. I felt like I should address it, but I didn’t want to step out of bounds. So, I confidentially talked through it with one of my leaders. Then, once I had their stamp of approval, I respectfully talked about the issue with the other leader. He appreciated that I had come to him, and it strengthened our friendship and our influence.
    Ministry is one of the rare places where developing leaders are given the opportunity to lead leadership veterans, high-level executives, CEOs – who are probably more experienced and more competent than they are. Having experienced leaders on your team can be a tremendous resource and support to you. One of the quickest ways to lose them is to lead without a clear sense of direction and resolve. If you don’t lead intentionally, they won’t stay long in your ministry. Leading qualified leaders is a privilege that we should make the most of.
    You absolutely must be honoring and respectful of everyone you lead. However, don’t allow yourself to be bullied by ageism, or think that your age undermines your leadership. There will always be those that think their age advantage qualifies them to overstep and overrule. Be confident in the authority you’ve been given. Lead well and stay under the covering of your leadership, and let it be a source of confidence for you.

We can successfully lead the older and wiser. It will require a little more from us, but the reward of the older generation having our backs is a priceless commodity in leadership. Lead them with excellence, and watch your influence grow!

Question: Are there any tips you’d add or a story you’d share about leading older generations? What has worked for you?